Manitoba neurosurgeon's research on traumatic brain injuries gets funding boost from MPI, U of M

A Manitoba neurosurgeon received $3.5 million to research personalized ways of treating traumatic brain injuries.

Dr. Frederick Zeiler hopes to improve outcomes for patients by researching tailored treatments

Dr. Frederick Zeiler says the current method of treating traumatic brain injuries doesn't account for individual complexities. He hopes his research will improve outcomes for patients. (Shutterstock/SeanidStudio)

A Manitoba neurosurgeon is getting $3.5 million to research personalized ways of treating traumatic brain injuries.

Dr. Frederick Zeiler, a Health Sciences Centre neurosurgeon and University of Manitoba professor, plans to use the money to advance research in the field to address one of the leading causes of death for those under 35.

Over the last 30 years, the death rate for people with these injuries has stayed relatively flat at around 30 per cent, while many suffer long-term problems.

"Most survivors have significant lifelong deficits that prevent them to return to work, return to their independent lifestyle, where they're often dependent on family members and other social support networks in order to function in society," said Zeiler.

Those outcomes haven't improved over the years.

Currently, when a person is admitted to an intensive care unit for a traumatic brain injury, doctors put a single pressure monitor in a patient's head by drilling a hole in their skull to keep record of their brain functions.

But Zeiler says that one size approach doesn't fit all.

A man in a grey suit with a light blue tie and a red rose in his lapel speaks at a podium in front of a Health Sciences Centre Foundation backdrop.
Dr. Frederick Zeiler, a neurosurgeon at Health Sciences Centre, will spearhead the research into new approaches to treating traumatic brain injuries. (Travis Golby/CBC)

That's because everyone has a different response to the injury, based on their genetic makeup, their past medical conditions and the environment they've grown up in.

"We know that if we treat everyone the same, it's clear that there's going to be a disparity in outcome." Zeiler said.

"We need to start thinking outside the box and it's clear that our previous approach over the last three decades has been unsuccessful."

He wants to conduct research that examines other factors like blood flow, oxygen and nutrient delivery to the brain.

MPI, U of M contributing cash

The research, which Zeiler has been doing since 2017, will get a boost thanks to a $2-million gift from Manitoba Public Insurance and $1.5 million from the University of Manitoba. That's on top of $1.5 million the Health Sciences Centre Foundation put up.

Motor vehicle collisions are the leading cause of traumatic brain injuries locally and worldwide, said MPI's president and CEO Eric Herbelin.

"When we speak about traumatic brain injury and severe traumatic brain injury, it is very important for MPI to take care of those cases, making sure that we provide the best service coverage and indemnity to those injured and their families and also the care that goes with it on an ongoing basis," Herbelin said.

Although he says the funding the Crown corporation is contributing is good for the community, he also says it makes good business sense.

"We believe that this investment will be beneficial to Manitobans and to those affected by traumatic brain injuries. And with that, overall, we should also see a reduction in the total cost of claims that we pay," Herbelin said.

Zeiler says the money will help attract talent from all over Canada, expand research facilities and hopefully develop new drugs and targeted treatments that will be able to prevent and treat injuries for future patients.

"This is kind of a ground-up rebuild in terms of how we approach traumatic brain injury care and how we approach research and innovation for TBI," Zeiler said.

"The hope is that in the long term, you know, we're going to see some tangible results that make real world changes in bedside care for these patients." 


Rachel Bergen is a journalist for CBC Manitoba and previously reported for CBC Saskatoon. Email story ideas to

With files from Peggy Lam


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